Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

'Defining and Recognising Are Not the Same': Challenges to Tackling Hate Crime in a Performance Culture

Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

'Defining and Recognising Are Not the Same': Challenges to Tackling Hate Crime in a Performance Culture

Article excerpt


Hate Crime can be defined as that section of criminal behaviour that is motivated by the victim's membership or perceived membership of a particular group. Victims are commonly targeted on the basis of their ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, faith or a disability. In some instances legislation exists to prohibit it, for example the specific offence of 'Inciting Racial Hatred'. In other cases, where hatred is contributory in the commission of a more generic offence, for example a criminal assault, it is regarded as an aggravating factor, and is thus accorded greater priority in its investigation. A successful prosecution can result in greater sanctions against the person convicted. However, it is a reality of the UK criminal justice system that not all hate crime is reported, not all of that reported is recognised for what it is, and not all of that recognised is recorded or prosecuted as such.

This article considers some of the complexities in how hate crime is defined and the issues relating to how it is addressed. With reference to the application of a performance framework to policing, this includes barriers to reporting by victims and recognition by police, and barriers to accurate recording. Included is a review of some of the available academic literature on the subject, but also an assessment of some of the systems and practical considerations of the police service in seeking to tackle the issue effectively.


In determining how well hate crime is tackled by the criminal justice agencies, the focus of Home Office and broader scrutiny has tended in the past to be concentrated in two statistical areas. The first is the volume of such crime that is recorded, and the second is the proportion of that recorded for which offenders are identified and 'brought to justice'. One issue with this approach rests in identifying and reconciling any disparity between the amount of hate crime occurring and the amount being recorded.

This article sets out some of the challenges encountered by the police service and other criminal justice agencies in seeking to accommodate a performance framework that has tended to be based on these quantitative issues, rather than upon qualitative matters such as victims' and witnesses' perceptions of the service received from criminal justice agencies.

A focus of the following discussion is the observation that the motivation, the internal element that drives some people to commit hate crime, is a critically important element that must be identified and proven beyond reasonable doubt if a prosecution is to have a realistic chance of success and can be a slippery and insubstantial concept to capture in practice. Another is the difficulty in finding consensually acceptable systems and processes to manage the tackling of a phenomenon that can be observed from so many perspectives and has such an abundance of different guises.


Crime can be defined from various perspectives. Hall (2005:14) identifies it as a social construct, meaning different things to different people, but for the purposes of this article a legal definition is appropriate. That offered by De Sola (1982:34) is concise:

Anything forbidden by law and hence rendering the offender punishable.

Walklate (2005:3) also offers a concise definition, "Crime is that behaviour prohibited by the criminal code", but goes on to emphasise the multitude of complexities concealed. Not least among these is the issue of what is and what is not interpreted as crime and then recorded by police officers. The situation is unclear even with regard to such enduring categories of crime as assault, criminal damage, theft and so on. The police service has traditionally taken primary responsibility in England and Wales for the preventing, reducing, recording, investigating and detecting of crime. With the creation of 'Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships' by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, these responsibilities have begun to be shared across public sector agencies. …

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